Construction workers with a thin-film photovoltaic panel being installed.

6 August 2014 — The University of Queensland and First Solar have started construction on a 3.275 megawatt, 40,000-panel solar photovoltaic research facility, the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

The facility will be built over 10 hectares at UQ’s Gatton campus and conduct research on large-scale solar as well as generate enough electricity to power 30 per cent of the campus. It will also host a megawatt-hour-scale battery storage research station to investigate the value of short- and medium-term energy storage of large-scale PV, its impact on the quality of power supply and any resulting economic benefits.

“The researchers using this facility will provide new insights on integrating large-scale renewable power plants with conventional electricity grids,” said UQ vice-chancellor and president Professor Peter Høj.

“These researchers are some of the best in the business, and their teamwork with an innovative global company such as First Solar will ensure optimal returns on a substantial Australian government investment in renewable energy research and development, with excellent implications for society and the environment.”

Foundations are laid for a dual axis solar photovoltaic tracking array. The Gatton PV Pilot Plant Research Building is under construction in the background.

In addition to supplying and installing about 40,000 advanced thin-film photovoltaic panels, First Solar will provide engineering, procurement and construction for what will be known as the Gatton PV Pilot Plant.

“Our collaboration with UQ will result in advanced local solar generation technologies that will strengthen the solar industry’s position within Australia’s energy mix,” said First Solar regional manager for Asia Pacific Jack Curtis.

“The Gatton research facility will evidence the value that private and public sector research collaboration can bring to the renewable energy sector.”

Director of the Global Change Institute’s UQ Solar Professor Paul Meredith said the project was scheduled to be commissioned early next year.

“The new research facility will enhance knowledge and implementation of grid integration of large solar power systems,” Professor Meredith said.

“It will allow us to compare and contrast new technologies by studying electrical and economic performance of multiple PV mounting technologies through the installation and operation of fixed-tilt, single-axis and dual-axis tracker technologies side-by-side in the same field.”

The research project has been funded through a $40.7 million grant by the Education Infrastructure Fund to UQ and the University of New South Wales announced last year.